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Rock Art Creations - Desert Little Bear

About Southwestern Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs are designs carved into rocks (vs pictographs, which are designs, painted on rocks). The rocks that are used are light colored basalt rocks that over thousands of years have been covered over by "rock varnish".

Rock varnish is formed in two layers. The actual color of the rock is a gray volcanic basalt rock. On top of that is a light tan colored layer formed by a combination of iron oxidation and the accumulation of dust and clay particles. After that layer is formed, the black patina is forged over approximately 14 thousand years. The black color is produced by the oxidation of magnesium contained within minute dust and clay particles as well as organic residue from the remains of lichen, moss, microscopic bacteria and other biological matter. Eventually the black patina covers the entire exposed surface of the rock. In fact, archeologists at petroglyph sites can tell which rocks are oldest by this natural process. The patinization process gradually covers up the markings that ancient peoples have made, making their earlier designs fainter than the newer carvings.

Ancient peoples created petroglyphs by striking one rock against the other exposing the light tan (iron oxidation) layer beneath. To create his more intricate designs, Desert Little Bear uses modern tools.

Care of your artwork

In desert regions, the artwork can be left outdoors to enhance landscaping. In more temperate regions the art should be kept inside since heavy rain will eventually erode the patina. The patina is rock hard, but because it is micro-thin, it can be damaged by heavy handling. Also, remember that designs were originally carved by chipping away at the patina; therefore, care needs to be taken so that the patina is not chipped off. A stabilizer has been added to help protect the design, but because the patina is mostly organic, don't chemically clean, brush, or polish the rock. To clean the stone, rinse with cold water and let air dry. Like ancient petroglyphs, the piece will last for thousands of years if just left alone.


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